Serrano v. Standard Insurance Co.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER denying 20 Motion to Compel. Signed by Magistrate Judge Kenneth G. Gale on 2/16/21. (df)
Case 2:20-cv-02364-TC-KGG Document 24 Filed 02/16/21 Page 1 of 6
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF KANSAS
ERASMO I. SERRANO, M.D.,
Case No. 20-2364-JAR-KGG
ORDER DENYING MOTION TO COMPEL DISCOVERY
Now before the Court is Plaintiff’s Motion to Compel Discovery. (Doc. 20.)
Having reviewed the submissions of the parties, Plaintiff’s motion is DENIED.
Plaintiff’s lawsuit seeks recovery of long term disability benefits from
Defendant under a group employment disability insurance contract provided
through University of Kansas Physicians, pursuant to the Employee Retirement
Income Security Act (“ERISA”), 29 U.S.C. §1132(a)(l)(B). Plaintiff contends he
was unable to work as an emergency room physician, and thus disabled, as a result
of a condition related to his shoulder. He applied for – and was eventually denied
– long-term disability benefits from Defendant.
Plaintiff alleges that the term “own occupation” in Defendant’s policy is
vague and ambiguous. He served discovery on Defendant relating to the definition
Case 2:20-cv-02364-TC-KGG Document 24 Filed 02/16/21 Page 2 of 6
of this term. Defendant objected to the discovery, contending that the information
is irrelevant because the Court’s review is limited to the administrative record and
the requested discovery “seeks to expand the scope of discovery outside the
materials contained in the administrative record.” (See generally Doc. 21-2
(regarding Interrogatories) and Doc. 21-3 (regarding Requests for Production).)
Defendant responds that Plaintiff’s motion should be denied because
1) when reviewing whether Standard’s interpretation was
arbitrary and capricious, the Court is to limit its review to
the documents contained in the Administrative Record;
2) the LTD Plan cannot be modified orally or by
documents outside the plan document; and 3) Plaintiff
has cited no relevant authority that would allow him to
reverse these long standing legal authorities.
(Doc. 23, at 2.)
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b) establishes the standard for discovery.
The Rule states that
[p]arties may obtain discovery regarding any
nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party’s claim
or defense and proportional to the needs of the case,
considering the importance of the issues at state in the
action, the amount in controversy, the parties’ relative
access to relevant information, the parties' resources, the
importance of the discovery in resolving the issues, and
whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery
outweighs its likely benefit. Information within this
Case 2:20-cv-02364-TC-KGG Document 24 Filed 02/16/21 Page 3 of 6
scope of discovery need not be admissible in evidence
to be discoverable.
Id. (emphasis added.) As such, the requested information must be nonprivileged,
relevant, and proportional to the needs of the case to be discoverable. Holick v.
Burkhart, No.16-1188-JTM-KGG, 2018 WL 372440, at *2 (D. Kan. Jan. 11,
Discovery requests must be relevant on their face. Williams v. Board of Cty
Comm’rs, 192 F.R.D. 698, 705 (D. Kan. 2000). Relevance is to be “broadly
construed at the discovery stage of the litigation and a request for discovery should
be considered relevant if there is any possibility the information sought may be
relevant to the subject matter of the action.” Smith v. MCI Telecommunications
Corp., 137 F.R.D. 25, 27 (D. Kan. 1991). Defendant argues that “[t]he materials
Plaintiff seeks are outside the Administrative Record” and thus “wholly irrelevant
to how Standard administered Plaintiff’s claim.” (Doc. 23, at 2.)
When deciding whether requested discovery should be allowed in case
alleging the denial of ERISA benefits, the Court “must first acknowledge the
standard by which it reviews the claims administrator’s decision.” O’Sullivan v.
Hartford Life and Accident Insurance Company, No. 18-1250-JTM-GEB, 2019
WL 2208149, at *2 (D. Kan. May 22, 2019). The Supreme Court has determined
that the “‘denial of benefits challenged under § 1132(a)(1)(B) is to be reviewed
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under a de novo standard unless the benefit plan gives the administrator or
fiduciary discretionary authority to determine eligibility for benefits or to construe
the terms of the plan.’” Id. (citation omitted). If the administrator has
discretionary authority under the plan, the arbitrary and capricious standard of
review is applied. Jaremko v. ERISA Admin. Comm., No. 10-1137-RDR, 2011
WL 42881, at *1 (D. Kan. Jan. 6, 2011) (citing DeGrado v. Jefferson Pilot Fin.
Ins. Co., 451 F.3d 1161, 1167 (10th Cir. 2006).)
Defendant contends that “Plaintiff admits that the LTD Plan grants the
Defendant discretionary authority to interpret the terms of the LTD Plan and that to
prevail on his claim he must show that Standard’s interpretation of the Plan was
arbitrary and capricious.” (Doc. 23, at 2 (citing Doc. 21, at 3).) Plaintiff admits
that the arbitrary and capricious standard applies. (Doc. 21, at 3.) Thus, it is
uncontested that the Court will ultimately review this case under the arbitrary and
capricious standard of review.
When the Court employs this standard to review a decision by a plan
‘the district court generally may consider only the
arguments and evidence before the administrator at the
time it made that decision.’ Therefore, the court’s review
is usually ‘limited to the administrative record – the
materials compiled by the administrator in the course of
making his decision,’ and it ‘is the unusual case in which
the district court should permit supplementation of the
record.’ ‘The party moving to supplement the record or
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engage in extra-record discovery bears the burden of
showing its propriety.’ Courts do not look favorably on
attempts to discover or present additional substantive
evidence regarding the applicant's disability. But courts
have permitted discovery, outside the administrative
record, under such ‘exceptional circumstances’ as when a
conflict of interest exists or ‘when there is evidence that a
claimant could not have presented in the administrative
O’Sullivan, 2019 WL 2208149, at *2.
In the present matter, Plaintiff has made no showing of exceptional
circumstances to justify this discovery. Plaintiff did not even file a reply brief to
contradict any of the arguments raised in Defendant’s response. Plaintiff’s
reference to the alleged ambiguity of a term – that by Plaintiff’s own admission has
an extensive definition in the policy at issue (see Doc. 21, at 1-2) – does not equate
to an exceptional circumstance. Further, the law is clear that “[w]hen a plan
administrator is given authority to interpret the plan language, and more than one
interpretation is rational, the administrator can choose any rational alternative.”
Kimber v. Thiokol Corp., 196 F.3d 1092, 1100 (10th Cir. 1999) (citing Naugle v.
O'Connell, 833 F.2d 1391, 1396 (10th Cir. 1987).)
Plaintiff has failed to meet his burden establishing the propriety or necessity
of the requested extra-record discovery. See O’Sullivan, 2019 WL 2208149, at *2.
Plaintiff’s motion is, therefore, DENIED.
Case 2:20-cv-02364-TC-KGG Document 24 Filed 02/16/21 Page 6 of 6
IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that Plaintiff’s Motion to Compel (Doc.
20) is DENIED.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Dated this 16th day of February, 2021, at Wichita, Kansas.
S/ KENNETH G. GALE
HON. KENNETH G. GALE
U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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